27 Dec 2011

New system urged for miscarriage of justice cases

2:26 pm on 27 December 2011

The lawyer for Peter Ellis says an independent commission to deal with alleged miscarriages of justice is badly needed in New Zealand.

Mr Ellis spent almost seven years in prison after being convicted of sexually abusing children at a Christchurch creche in the early 1990s but has always maintained his innocence.

His lawyer, Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, is preparing a fourth request for a pardon.

She says a Criminal Cases Review Commission, similar to that in the United Kingdom, is needed to look at cases like his.

At present, the Minister of Justice makes a recommendation to the Governor-General to grant a pardon, reduce a sentence or send a case for a retrial.

Ms Ablett-Kerr says the pardon process is lengthy, costly and relies on lawyers for the accused to do the legwork.

She said a skilled independent body could investigate, filter out cases with no merit and and refer cases to the Court of Appeal where justified.

Ms Ablett-Kerr said the UK's commission referred just 4% of the 1000 cases that came before it last year to the Court of Appeal and about half those were successful.

Former Justice Minister Simon Power, who left Parliament at the end of the last term, said in his valedictory speech that the Peter Ellis case continued to worry him, as did the decision process around pardons.

Mr Power said there was merit in moving decision-making to a separate independent body.

Criminal Bar Association president Tony Bouchier agrees, saying a Criminal Cases Review Commission would be independent and have specialist knowledge.

Peter Ellis is hopeful that a pardon request, based on new research over child witnesses and expected to be lodged in February, will be successful this time around.

He also wants a Royal Commission into the case, which he says was part of a worldwide phenomenon of mass hysteria of child abuses in creches, but has been told that won't happen while he has the option of going to the Privy Council.

Mr Ellis says he can't afford to go to Britain and the option of going to the Privy Council is obstructing his path to justice.

He hopes new Justice Minister Judith Collins will have the conviction to act on the recommendations in Simon Power's valedictory speech.

And he says Ms Collins signed a petition for an inquiry into his case in 2005.